Possible Treatment for Lupus Pain and Fatigue
Systemic lupus erythematosus, also called SLE or just lupus, is an autoimmune disease that’s difficult to treat. Because many people don’t find adequate relief with conventional medical treatments, they often turn to complementary and alternative treatments, such as acupuncture.
In lupus, a disordered immune system attacks certain tissues in your body. It most often affects one or more of the following:
Pain and fatigue are among the most common symptoms of lupus, but it can also feature a host of other symptoms, including hair loss, a facial rash, and sensitivity to light.
Acupuncture as a lupus treatment hasn’t received a great deal of attention from researchers, but some early studies show promising results.
How Acupuncture Works
Acupuncture involves placing extremely thin needles—about the width of a hair—in specific places around the body in order to relieve symptoms of a multitude of illnesses. It’s been practiced in China, as part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), for thousands of years.
The Eastern belief is that acupuncture restores the proper flow of energy, or “chi,” through your body, stimulates healing, and aids in relaxation.
Western researchers have different theories about how acupuncture might work:
It may impact the autonomic nervous system, which regulates automatic functions in your body (such as blood flow and temperature).
It may make your brain release endorphins, which are natural pain relievers.
It may stimulate the lymphatic system.
It may stimulate the central nervous system to release certain chemicals into your brain, spinal cord, and muscles that promote healing.
It's possible that more than one of those theories is correct.
Acupuncture for Lupus
According to the National Institutes of Health, studies show acupuncture may help ease many types of chronic pain and is safe when performed properly.
Some research suggests that acupuncture may be beneficial for treating autoimmune disease in general, possibly by stimulating the lymphatic system, which plays an important part in your immune function and is believed to be dysfunctional in autoimmune disease.
While the lymphatic system hasn’t been studied in lupus, some research indicates lymphatic dysfunction plays a role.
Looking at the symptom of pervasive and persistent fatigue in lupus, a review of studies found some evidence that acupuncture may relieve fatigue in some people with this disease. (It also said exercise, diet, phototherapy, plus behavioral and psychological approaches also reduced fatigue.)
Another review found some evidence that acupuncture may reduce the pain of lupus by more than 30%. That was also true of the control group, but reviewers point out that the “control” method used also involved inserting needles into the skin, which may actually have provided a therapeutic benefit.
A case study of a woman with lupus reported that acupuncture:
Improved sleep quality
Improved health-related quality of life
Another case report focusing on the Eastern view of acupuncture’s effect on energy flow states followed a woman with lupus, who had high amounts of protein in her urine. Called proteinuria, this can result from inflammation in the kidneys due to their being under attack by lupus.
Researchers say the woman experienced:
Less pain and stiffness